Saskatoon, Regina – With Manitoba next door going into another lockdown, Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili and Economy and Jobs Critic Aleana Young called on the provincial government to talk to its neighbours and ask what they would have done several weeks ago to avoid getting into the situation they are currently in.
Over a Zoom press conference from Saskatoon on Nov. 12, Meili noted Saskatchewan has seen a 500 per cent increase in the number of new cases in the last 30 days, and hospitals have seen a 600 per cent increase in admissions. “Our hospitals are on the verge of being overwhelmed,” Meili said.
On Nov. 12, Saskatchewan posted 111 new cases. This province had 49 people in hospital, 13 of which are in intensive care, and 15 recoveries. Saskatchewan had 1,459 active cases. Next door, Manitoba posted 474 new cases, nine deaths, 111 recoveries, with 227 in hospital and 34 in intensive care. Manitoba had 6,030 active cases.
Learning from our neighbours was a point Meili stressed. He said, “Let's be looking at what could prevent us getting into a situation like Manitoba, Alberta and North Dakota are in. And this is where, you know, the first step is to say, we're actually interested in trying. And when I hear from Scott Moe, there's no interest in either looking at all the options. That's very disturbing. And yesterday we heard from Saskatchewan doctors, a call for leadership for action to address this surge this spike in new cases.”
The government’s daily COVID-19 update on Nov. 12 said, “The Saskatchewan Ministry of Health and Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab are currently considering additional public health measures to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. These measures will be announced on Friday, November 13 at 11:30 a.m.”
Meili noted 402 doctors had now signed a public letter, released on Nov. 11, calling on the province to take more action on COVID-19. A doctor himself, Meili said he had not signed it, as he didn’t feel it would be appropriate for him to sign a letter that is advocacy for political action. He added, “A whole lot of my colleagues and friends have signed, and I think it’s really good to see physicians being willing to step up and take that advocacy role. It’s a key role for doctors, as they’re on the front lines, seeing what’s happening, sounding the alarms when those alarms need to be sounded.”
Speaking from Regina, Young pointed out she is a small business owner, herself. She said the government has had eight months to plan for a second wave in the fall, but said there was no plan. “Businesses are still hurting here in Saskatchewan. We're hearing that loud and clear across the province, and even without a shutdown, we're facing real challenges.”
She noted most businesses rely on a good summer, and most need a good holiday season. Young said, “If we don't get this right, it's going to be a disaster for small businesses. And what we're seeing right now is a complete lack of information, a complete lack of clarity, and a complete lack of anything approaching the plan from this government. With Christmas coming, I think what all businesses are looking for is some clarity, and some sort of information around what thresholds look like. As we know from the spring, shutdowns happen very quickly, but re-openings happen slowly. And right now, with the complete lack of information and lack of leadership from the government on small businesses and the employees who rely on them in this province, anxiety is high.”
Meili said, “If we get this wrong, if we get the health and safety side wrong, it's going to be incredibly damaging for Saskatchewan’s economy. But this is a premier who campaigned on the idea that this was over, but it's not over. It has not been taken care of. And in fact, we're about to face our worst period yet.”
Asked if he was calling for a lockdown, Meili responded, “What we're calling for is clarity and action from this government, the same thing that the physicians are calling for. Because if we don't get this right, if we don't actually look at all of our options to reduce this surge, the damage for businesses will be incredible. And this is what really concerns me, that we're on a trajectory, we're on a path to going back to what we were dealing with in the spring, instead of using targeted, measured approaches, right now, to reduce the transmission and reduce the pressures on hospitals. We're facing potentially a major lockdown, and that is extremely concerning, as we know what an impact that will have on local businesses. We're asking Scott Moe to actually engage with this in a reasonable and serious way, because right now, just saying there will be there will be no further restrictions, there will be no further serious action, is completely irresponsible.”
On Nov. 11, Manitoba reported 431 new cases and nine new deaths related to COVID-19. Manitoba enacted another round of restrictions on Nov. 12, as the entire province moved to “red” or critical level restrictions, essentially another lockdown. The Government of Manitoba said in a Nov. 10 press release the restrictions include limiting social contacts to your household only, with no social gatherings permitted. Social contacts reduced to your household only. Travel to and from northern Manitoba is restricted and non-essential travel is discouraged. Retail businesses listed as critical services, such as grocery stores and pharmacies, can remain open at 25 per cent capacity. Retail businesses not on the list are able to provide e-service, curbside pickup or delivery services. All personal service businesses, including hair salons, barbers and sites offering manicures, pedicures and other esthetic services, must close. Gyms and fitness centres must close. Religious and cultural gatherings must close or be provided virtually only. Restaurants must close to the public and may be open for delivery, drive-thru or takeout only. All recreational activities, sports facilities, casinos, museums, galleries, libraries, movie theatres and concert halls must close.
Asked if he’s calling for the same restrictions as Manitoba, Meili said, “That's what we're likely to face if this continues and that's why I'm calling on this government to act now in a more focused and precise way, and to talk to those jurisdictions, what would you have done, when you were at our stage?
Meili said that a mask mandate should be implemented across the entire province, not just Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert. “Let’s staff up in health care. Get testing working properly. Get enough people in there so we’re able to keep up with the testing need and demand. Let’s staff up in long term care and acute care,” Meili said.
He also called for smaller classroom sizes.
Ontario and British Columbia have taken some actions to reduce their per capita case rate, he noted.
Meili said he’s hearing modelling showing Saskatchewan will hit 200 to 300 new cases per day “in a very short time,” but the modelling has not been shared by the government.
With regards to the field hospitals in Regina and Saskatoon, which have not been activated, Meili said “It’s really important that we have those staffing contingencies in place.”
Brian Zinchuk, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, Estevan Mercury